Saturday, April 9, 2011

Did Speaker Boehner blink on government shutdown?

Well it looks like the threat of a government shutdown has been averted for now with a last minute “deal” between President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, click here, (though the broader policy conflicts and debate inherent in the huge deficits that must be tackled beginning next week as Republicans address the fiscal year 2012 budget will continue, see here).   Indeed, in that regard one can't help but think if such torturous negotiations were necessary over just a few billion dollars out of the trillions that currently make up the federal budget, (see here), how can Congress ever possibly make the needed trillions in budget cuts that will be needed in the future to bring spending on entitlements and other government programs under control?  (That is, at least if we are truly to reform Washington's spendthrift ways and force the government to live within its means and avoid catastrophic cuts in the future.)  Be that as it may, the conventional wisdom is that the budget deal averting a government shutdown is, at least for now, a momentous “victory” for Speaker Boehner and the Republicans, (and averts extremist political posturing from the left as well, see here).  But is that really the case or did we just witness a HUGE “blink” by the Speaker of the people's House?

In that regard it cannot be denied that, in fact, the 38.5 billion dollar cut was much lower than the 100 billion that initially had been sought and pressed for by some in the Grand Ol Party, (particularly the conservatives so influential in Republican pick ups in the mid-term election). This fact lead Tea Party aligned firebrand Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), as well as Mike Pence, (R-IN), to pledge to vote against the deal (see here and here), plainly presaging future difficulties on the thorny 2012 budget, (even as the bi-partisan cooperation extended to swift action on an 'interim' deal designed to provide money for the cash-strapped federal government that could tide it over until the language in the more complex official agreement could be finalized by staffers and voted on, see here.  For a detailed summary on what exactly is in the deal, click here). 

And while it can't be denied that such opposition remains as much about so-called ”social issues” as about economics, the fact remains that on a host of other issues many in the activist base of the party are less than thrilled, (for previous comments from Rush Limbaugh about any compromises on the budget cuts see here and here).

Indeed, the GOP leadership, while winning promises to allow up or down votes on a couple of measures in the Senate (including an effort to completely repeal Obamacare in the Democratic controlled upper chamber), had to in the end settle for accepting continued funding of Planned Parenthood, (the nation's largest operator of abortion clinics) and abandon plans to defund the progressive left's pipedream of allowing the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide emissions as a “pollutant”-- which in all likelihood now will become law in an endrun around Congress' less than enthusiastic support for controversial “cap and trade” legislation-- in exchange for a continuation of existing anti-federal-funding-for-abortion law in D.C., (otherwise known in government circles as the “Hyde” Amendment).

And while the GOP also won the right to extend funds for school choice vouchers which allow parents in the district to take their children out of failing D.C. City schools and send them to private ones just like all the U.S. Senators do with their children-- hmmmm, is this what democracy looks like?-- as well as for an “up or down” vote on repeal of Obamacare, it is hard to see much upside for the Republicans UNLESS, and this is a very big unless, the goal all along was really not so much reform now as securing the support of Independent voters in the critical 2012 elections.

Indeed, from that perspective-- and depending on the outcome in the Presidential elections-- this compromise by Boehner may be worth it all (and then some!) if it represents the beginning of a process that ends up sweeping Obama and Senate Democrats from power in 2012, (as we have been told, elections have consequences).

So did Boenher blink? While for many the obvious short-term response may be, “yes,” in a certain sense, he did, (especially when one considers how glowingly the President and Senate majority leader Harry Reid are speaking of the “agreement,” see here and here), in a much more subtantive and strategic sense it is still as uncertain as the downside to the Republicans-- or Democrats for that matter-- had a government shutdown taken place, (leading us to can only conclude that the jury is still out on the question).

In other words, in spite of everything seeming to change in a literal fortnight, really nothing has, which in turn leads us to the same conclusion as when a shutdown seemed all but certain: For the definitive answer we will just have to wait and see. jp

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